Tenby Educators – Academic Year End

Dear Tenby Educators
Following on from my end of term letter to you all, I promised you some more information here!
As educators who espouse the virtues of ‘lifelong learning’, it is vitally important that we too make lifelong learning a natural part of our day to day life. As educators, we are in a unique position to model the values of the school for our children.
I also happen to believe that this value of ‘lifelong learning’ is a win-win for all of us – growing feels positive, learning is enriching. I also believe that educators share knowledge, so for me that’s the biggest reason why this blog exists.
Vacation time is important for us to recharge our batteries, to reflect on our professional practice and to set goals for ourselves that motivate, inspire and excite. I believe humans are a bit like bicycles – we’re at our best when moving forward and standing still really does us no good at all.
I take this opportunity to share with you my personal selection of great reading, perfect for vacation.

1. Mindset, Carol Dweck
This is a book I’ve been very fond of recommending to both colleagues and parents, ever since I read it for the first time. I believe it deserves to be right up at the top of the reading list. Carol Dweck is a professor at Stanford University. Her book explores, through research findings the impact of the Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset. The starting premise is a simple one, but as the book highlights the implications are massive. Educators and parents who are not aware of the findings in this book can be inadvertently reinforcing fixed mindset that can blight the lives of children as it infects their beliefs about academic abilities, propensity and skill in learning, creativity, sports and physical skills and abilities.
If you choose to read only one of the books on this list, this is the one I recommend.

2. Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar
A small slim book, but one of of my favourite books. The book is a bi-product of Tal’s course that he used to teach at Harvard – the most popular and most attended course there. Yes, indeed, the young under and post-grads of Harvard are smart enough to realise that they can have all the skills, intelligence and ability to get in to one of the world’s great academic institutes, they might be destined for great professional success – but, none of that guarantees them happiness in life. Tal is a part of the ‘Positive Psychology’ movement that is applying the rigour of academic research and thinking to what might previously have been strictly the domain of the self-help movement.
Very thought provoking and well worth exploring.

3. Flow or Finding Flow, both by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I’ve read both of these books twice, and took something new away each time. Both are fascinating and well written books about how to ‘get in the groove’ so that tasks don’t feel like tasks and we get more done of what we need to do to achieve our goals and aspirations.
These have occasionally provoked some really interesting conversations with students about how to create meaning and purpose in mundane tasks. I talked about how when I had menial manual jobs as a youngster I would set myself targets related to how quickly I might complete a task, how accurately, estimating various aspects and then seeing how close I could get to those estimates. As I did this I found time on task flew by, I avoided boredom, got the job done and felt satisfaction afterwards.

4. Linchpin by Seth Godin
In a changing world, everyone needs to pay careful attention to how they ‘make meaning’ in the world, carve out a niche for themselves and do work that is engaging to them.
On my first reading of this book I found so much that was significant both for us as adults and for children in school, being prepared for life.
In short – it’s about how people make themselves indispensable (and that includes reading and learning!)

5. Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen
A Harvard Business School professor who has built his reputation on work about how technology does so much more than just lead to incremental changes in any industry, turned his attention to how technology can radically disrupt the field of education.

6. Schools That Learn by Peter Senge
This certainly wins the prize on this list for the biggest and heaviest of the books – maybe a bit too heavy for your hand luggage if travelling. Peter Senge is one of the world’s leading authorities on Systems Thinking. In this book he turned his attention to schools, education and parents. There is an accompanying website that provides more information:
http://www.schoolsthatlearn.com

7. Good to Great by Jim Collins
One of a series of books that looks at companies and organisations from various fields, exploring how they get beyond just merely being good companies or organisations, but become outstanding – and, maybe more important, sustain it.

8. The Leader Within by Stephen Covey
Most people know Covey for the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (and subsequently, the Eighth Habit). In this book he translates the habits in to a set of principles that can be used to create a school culture, following through in some detail some of the first schools in the USA that did so.

9. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Sir Ken Robinson
The man best known for his groundbreaking TED talk that challenged some of what he perceived as wrong in education today. It’s the most watched TED talk ever and has been the inspiration for many educators to bring meaningful change to schools and their teaching.

10. Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn, or
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
A somewhat controversial and provocative, New York based educator who has published many books setting out well-reasoned arguments that challenge some fashionable and accepted orthodoxies when it comes to teaching, schools and parenting. Reading Alfie Kohn’s work leads us to start to question things we may have taken for granted in many ways about children.

Bonuses:

11. Drive, Daniel Pink
As a long time reader of Pink’s books and his blog this book had been on my ‘to be read’ list for quite some time. It’s a fascinating exploration of human motivation. It’s relevant for us to understand our motivation as adults, but also to understand children’s motivation to learn.

12. Giving Voice to Values, Mary C Gentile
I originally received this book as a gift from a professional colleague. Ms Gentile is a professor of Babson College, USA and the book explores the issues of finding courage to lead through values and inspire others. It explores how values can be the driving force for an organisation and for leadership.

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Happy, Happy Happy

Dubai has created a role of Minister for Happiness. The head of the main Dubai education regulatory body says his first priority is happy schools. And, as this article reveals, happy schools is a theme in many places with UNESCO taking a leading profile:

The Nation – High Hopes for Happy Learning

As a reaction to some of what’s been wrong in k-12 education for way too long, this is all perhaps understandable. However, it carries with it rather too big a whiff of faddishness and ‘flavour of the moment’ for my liking. It seems like a massively over-simplistic reaction that could be counter-productive in the long run.

Happiness is at the core of Positive Psychology and the work of people like Marty Seligman, Tal Ben Shahar or Shawn Achor. I completely believe that there is a place for their work to fundamentally shape the kinds of schools we develop, the learning experiences of children and the values that shape our education systems. However, this has to happen from the big picture and is about something far more sophisticated than simply suggesting that children should do less work, have more fun and be happy.

Positive psychology is also about pursuit of meaningful lives. If students are pursuing learning about which they are passionate in ways that suit them individually and that have real meaning and purpose for them, then there is no such thing as working too hard. The idea should not be to somehow turn schools in to leisure camps where having fun and being happy for its own sake take precedence over the purpose of school. Learning and preparation to live a great life should be the cause of passion, happiness and enthusiasm in the individual child because it becomes a pull process – something they do for themselves driven by intrinsic motivation. Our problem today is that too much of what passes for education is “done to” children, making them passive recipients.

I fear that under the new enforced happiness regimes, too many teachers will now believe they must “do happiness” to the children. Showing the children to be ‘happy’ will be a key requirement when inspectors visit the school, but the rest of the time little will really have changed. Happiness and positive healthy relationships, approaches to learning and school climate can’t be simply mandated. They have to flow through the training and professional development of teachers, inspired by common shared vision flowing from leaders and key figures in education (such as school promoters). Parents and teachers are crucial in all of this. We have to work to help them to understand the benefits of a truly holistic education approach.

Old wine in new bottles (with a smiley face on the label) will not serve our children well.

Meaning vs Happiness

In the simplest terms, happiness is not a distinguishing feature of being human, but meaning (a bigger purpose in life) is.

I couldn’t resist sharing the article linked below. For one thing, it takes as its starting point one of my two or three most valuable booms (I reread my dog-eared, noted up copy about once every year – “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

This is an extraordinary little book. If you’ve never read it, don’t just read it, but make sure you own a copy because I believe you’ll want to reread it in the future.

There is no question, to Frankl meaning was the critical factor that made for a good and valuably lived life. he determined that having meaning was the single biggest determinant of which prisoners survived the nazi concentration camps. The article takes an interesting perspective, putting this up against the current proliferation of books and sources advocating happiness. This has flowed out of the Positive Psychology movement (the father of this movement, Marty Selgman of Pennsylvania University is cited in the article).

I see Positive Psychology as a very necessary corollary to the psychology movement that had taken its lead from medicine, seeing its business as diagnosing and repairing ‘broken people’. Instead, the focus has shifted to enabling human potential through understanding of the human mind, motivations and drive. However, i feel it’s a bit unfair to suggest that Positive Psychology is simply about some kind of hedonistic pursuit of personal happiness in the moment. There is plenty in it that accords with Frankl’s focus on Meaning.

Business Insider – A Lesson About Happiness From A Holocaust Survivor

The article also cross-references another favourite book of mine, Baumeister’s “Willpower:
Willpower – Amazon

If any readers want to check on more of what is being said and advocated by the Positive Psychology movement I would recommend books by Shaun Achor:
Shaun Achor: The Happiness Advantage – Amazon
or
Any of the books by Tal Ben Shahar, who used to deliver the most popular course at Harvard University:
Tal Ben Shahar’s Website

Educators should, I believe, be thoroughly interested in all aspects and issues of human potential. These are all aspects that are about how people can live more fulfilling lives and i believe there are skills, techniques and mindsets that can be incorporated in to our work with children to give them greater scope and more tools to live both happy and meaningful lives.

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